How recycling can introduce toxic compounds into new products


Recycling plastics addresses the need for resource efficiency in a finite world. However, recycling raises questions about toxic residues being introduced into recycled products. Plastics have become an indispensable part of our society. Since the mass-production of plastics has started (1950s), the annual world production of plastic increased from 1.7 to 314 million tonnes in 2014. Plastics are highly complex mixtures of polymers and unreactive toxic intermediates, monomers and additives, such as pigments, dyes, fillers, antioxidants, flame retardants, UV stabilizers, surfactants and plasticizers. Banned toxic additives such as flame retardants (e.g. brominated diphenyl ethers) are now present in recycled products (toys, food-contact materials). Various other toxic additives can also enter recycled plastics. During use they may leach and cause potential human hazard. Regulations has led to restrictions for toxic additives in plastic products. Therefore, methods are needed to screen recycled plastics for toxic additives. Ongoing studies focus on restricted sets of single additives (target analysis), which is costly and time consuming. Screening for unknown mixtures of additives in recycled products and plastic waste, which will provide information on possible synergistic/additive effects, has so far been neglected.
Therefore I will i) implement ambient mass spectrometry to develop fast screening methods for additives in recycled products and waste streams, ii) set up innovative leaching experiments to investigate the realistic exposure to these additives, and iii) use suspect and non-target chemical screening in combination with effect-directed analysis (EDA), to identify which additives show toxicity. EDA is an integrated tool for the characterization of hazardous compounds in complex mixtures using parallel coupling of high-resolution fractionation, toxicity testing and high-resolution mass spectrometry. I expect that my results will contribute to a much faster and cheaper way of screening toxic compounds in recycled products and waste streams, and preventing toxic additives ending up in recycled products.





Dr. S.H. Brandsma

Verbonden aan

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculteit der Aard- en Levenswetenschappen, Instituut voor Milieuvraagstukken (IVM)


01/01/2018 tot 01/01/2021